Another Agency Far Less Transparent After AG Directive 2020-5

As we recently blogged here and here, there are serious concerns about the recent major discipline disclosures that police departments made pursuant to Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive 2020-5. Here is yet another problematic example:

The Star Ledger published an editorial this week panning the disclosures as “not the kind of transparency that was promised when the database was conceived, in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy and the universal demand for more police accountability.”

The first problematic example the newspaper gave was Guttenberg Police Department’s disclosure that an officer was “currently still suspended with pay.” That’s it. No other details about the officer’s conduct, despite the requirement that agencies provide a “brief summary of [each officer’s] transgressions.”

Thankfully, unlike most other agencies in the state, all of police departments in Hudson County complied with the old version of the AG’s internal affairs policy which required them to publish the major discipline report without names. Thus, we are able to view Guttenberg’s anonymous version of its major discipline report, which Hudson County View first published here.  (See page 8).

Guttenberg’s initial report (without names) said:

Please be advised that one (1) member of this agency had faced major disciplinary action during 2020. This officer (Sergeant) was suspended without pay since February for violations of this department’s rules and regulations. The officer failed to properly supervise and report an arrest and use of force incident.

Now the disclosure merely tells us the officer is “currently still suspended with pay.” Unless someone knew about the prior report, they would have no idea what this officer actually did and why he was being disciplined.

The failure to supervise and report an arrest and the use of force is a very serious offense. And, the officer has been suspended (with pay) for at least 494 days per the AG’s Major Discipline Database (see p. 38). But, the public was not told about this officer’s conduct and would have no way of knowing what the officer did based on the database. In order to determine whether there is appropriate accountability (i.e. whether the sanction was appropriate), the public needs to know about the officer’s actual transgression.

When Attorney General Grewal issued Directive 2020-5, he promised the public much greater transparency and that it would lead to better accountability. But, as the New Jersey Monitor recently wrote, the Directive turned out to be “a dud.” Many police departments are now far less transparent than they were before the Directive and there seems to be no oversight by the Attorney General’s Office.

For information about this blog or OPRA, please contact CJ Griffin at 201-488-8200 or cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.

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